Acorns, Bombs and Guns: The Falling Sky

Chicken Little once famously declared “THE SKY IS FALLING!”  Of course, he (she?) was wrong–it was an acorn.  Sadly, Chicken Little terrified his barnyard companions until they sought shelter in a fox’s den.  Only the unfortunately named Cocky Locky survived.  The lesson? It was a freakin’ acorn, you moron.  Now, Ducky Lucky, Henny Penny and the rest of your friends are dead meat–literally.

We can all agree that Chicken Little was a damn moron.  Plus, he was a chicken.  Chickens are filthy and disgusting.  Why the hell would the other animals listen to one of them, anyway?  Now, you probably think I don’t eat chickens, but I do.  Why?  Because I want to.  They’d eat me if they could.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah, Chicken Little.

(By the way, I have an idea for a post about chickens.  I’m not sure the public is ready for it.)

We Americans have much in common with Chicken Little.  I’m not saying we wallow in our own filth and stink like hell, although some of us surely do.  We do, however, get hit with the proverbial acorn and then scurry about the national barnyard in a panic.

Our latest acorn is the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Here’s what we know (or think we know):  Two brothers born in the Caucasus region of Russia are alleged to have detonated homemade bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.  One of them is dead and the other is hospitalized.  Since these two were identified, here are just a few of the things I’ve heard from folks, most of whom I consider intelligent (my comments are in red) :

  • These guys should have been sent back to Chechnya.  First, Chechnya isn’t a country. Second, when would we have sent them back?  One of them has been in the U.S. since he was 8 years old. 
  • The FBI had been asked to check out the older brother.  It’s the FBI’s fault.  How do we know the FBI didn’t check him out?  There’s no law against being sketchy. 
  • Pressure cookers aren’t designed to be used as bombsNo shit?  All this time, I thought KFC was a terrorist front.
  • All terrorists are Arab.  Ahem, Chechnya is not an Arab region.
  • All terrorists are Muslims. Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski–Not Muslims.
  • Muslims are dangerous and should be watched.  Some are. So are some Christians, Jews and atheists.  There are 2.5 million Muslims in the U.S.  If they were ALL terrorists, don’t you think we’d notice the constant terrorist attacks?  The last time we demonized an entire group of people, we put them in interment camps.  No one looks back at that with pride.
  • No one is safe!!  Technically, that’s true.  The U.S. has 15,000 or so homicides a year.  You can’t really call that being “safe,” but it begs a question:  If terrorists are responsible for three of those, who’s killing the other 14,997?
  • We can’t try these terrorists in civilian courts.  Why not?  We have a great and fair legal system.  It affords the accused many rights but also arms the government with ample resources to prosecute crimes.  We become outraged if American citizens aren’t afforded these same rights when accused of crimes in other countries. 

Here’s what appears to have happened in Boston.  Two followers of some radicalized version of Islam took it upon themselves to build homemade bombs and blow up people.  They succeeded.  The Muslims in our country aren’t all banded together to destroy our way of life.  Relax, Chicken Little.

These weren’t criminal geniuses.  They learned to make bombs on the Internet.  You can, too. You can also get helpful advice from a book called The Anarchist Cookbook.  It wasn’t even written by a Muslim.  It was published in 1971.  My brother owned a copy.

We also have acorns bouncing off our heads over gun control:

  • People don’t need ANY guns.  Perhaps that’s true, but it’s irrelevant.  The U.S. Constitution protects the right to own guns.
  • You’re wrong!  The Constitution only allows a “well-regulated militia” to own gunsNo, I’m right.  At least that’s the U.S. Supreme Court says.
  • I must have a gun to protect my family.  Where exactly do you live?  I’d like to know so I don’t move there. 
  • I must have a gun to protect myself against the government.  Which one?  If you mean the U.S. government, good luck with that.  Have you seen the firepower of the U.S. government? 
  • Well, I have other good reasons to own a gun.  You well may, but here’s the deal:  You don’t need a reason.  You can own one just because you like guns.  Hell, you can even own one for the sole purpose of wanting to shoot someone with it. 
  • The Second Amendment is bad. Let’s get rid of it.  Interesting take, but here’s your problem–and it’s a big one–it’s very difficult to amend the Constitution.  That’s a good thing.  It keeps us from tearing it apart with knee jerk reactions.  If you can’t get a few guns law passed, your chances of amending the Constitution are less than nil.  Move on to something that’s at least possible. 
  • Expanded background checks are the beginning of a police state.  No, they aren’t.  If that’s true, let’s just get rid of ALL background checks. 
  • If we pass new gun laws, the government will come and take our guns. The only way that can happen is if the government decides to ignore the Second Amendment and a host of other Constitutional rights.  If that happens, a few new gun laws will be the least of our problems.
  • We don’t need new gun laws, because criminals won’t obey them.  That’s probably true.  Law-abiding citizens obey the law, and criminals don’t.  That axiom applies to all laws.
  • Guns don’t kill people.  Again, that’s true.  It’s also true that Sarin gas, rocket launchers, grenades and flamethrowers don’t kill people, either.  You need a better argument. 

The truth is that a few new gun laws won’t hurt us.  Who knows?  They might even help.  I doubt we’ll find out any time soon.  My advice?  Relax.  We have a violent country full of people who like to hunt humans for sport.  If you’re one of them, you’ll still be able to get a gun.  If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you’ll also be able to get one. If you’re on the other side of the debate, think of this:  If you’re right and over 90% of the public wants stricter laws, there will be political backlash.  Count on it.  Relax.

Bombs and guns.  Terrorists and criminals.  Law-abiding citizens and victims.  Black and white.  Acorns and the end.  We live in a world now where we can get real-time news reports.  During the pursuit of the Boston bombers, you could follow it almost moment-by-moment on Twitter.  The news of the world in 140 characters.  That’s how we think now.  We hear something, and it requires an immediate response.   There’s no time to think.

Perhaps this is why there is a visceral reaction to everything now.  We color it black or white.  I suppose a lot of things are black or white, but those aren’t colors.  There are a lot of colors out there.  Take a look at the world and you’ll see them.  The same thing applies to the big issues of the day.  Maybe they’re black and white.  Maybe not.  It’s at least worth looking at them long enough to tell.

We are an odd people. Most of us, regardless of political leaning, are proud Americans.  We love our Constitution and cherish our rights.  But, when we thinking the sky is falling, we’ll gladly give up those rights in order to assuage our fears. Could it be that this is the reason that people–whether terrorists, politicians or our friends–try to scare us with the black and white of the world?  Maybe the fox tossed that acorn at Chicken Little.

Now, back to acorns.  An acorn hit my head once.  It hurt–a lot more than you’d expect.  It actually raised a knot on my head.  So, I’m not saying that terrorist attacks and gun control aren’t painful topics. They are.  Just don’t confuse them with a hunk of the sky. The fox awaits.

© 2013

5 Ridiculous Things: A Random List

The older I get, the more I hear the same stuff over and over and over.  I guess that’s true of everyone.  What may not be true of everyone is that I don’t repeat this tripe, except to the extent that I make up my own stuff and spread it.

This is largely a phenomenon of the Internet meme.  A meme is an idea or thought which spreads from person to person.  It’s kind of like “word of mouth.”  The Internet has taken this to new level by giving us each access to many more people than would otherwise be available to hear our raving.  For example, this silly blog has been read by thousands of people in dozens of countries.  Why?  Because it’s on the Internet.

The Internet, via social media in particular, allows us to spread rumors and half-truths at the speed of light or at least very fast.  There is so much of this that we have websites such as devoted to debunking these myths.  It’s only natural that Snopes must even debunk rumors about Snopes.

I’m now prepared to debunk a handful or particularly irksome thoughts, ideas, etc.  Why?  Because I’m on the Internet, by God.

As always, I offer my view only.  It may be incorrect. You may disagree.  If you do, I respect your right to disagree.  You have the right to be wrong.  I won’t infringe on that.

Below are a few things I’ve heard too much about which simply aren’t true.  Believe them if you wish, but I don’t.  For our purposes here, that’s all that matters.

Here are just five that I don’t buy into.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.  They were chosen at random for no particular reason.


Ever heard something like this:  Why don’t we treat the elderly like we do prisoners–free room and board; watch TV all day; exercise; and free medical/dental?  This outrage is based upon the notion that prison is great.  It’s great treatment and a wonderful life.  Prison, the thought goes, is too soft.

If you believe this, it’s safe to assume that you’ve never been in prison or talked to anyone who has been.  I’ve known a bunch of people who’ve been in prison.  They are universal on one opinion:  IT SUCKS!  I know a guy who spent three years in a minimum security prison on an Air Force base, one of the so-called “country club” prisons.  He said it was like “waking up in a nightmare every day.”

Here are few things that folks have told me about prison:

  • It’s filthy. No matter what you do, that doesn’t change.
  • You might be allowed to shower once or twice a week.
  • You use the bathroom out in the open.  That includes “major transactions,” too.
  • You are surrounded by violent, dangerous and often mentally ill people.  You live with them, eat with them and spend all the rest of your time with them.
  • Prisoners aren’t known for their fabulous teeth.  No citation of authority is necessary.
  • The free health care consists of seeing a doctor if you are clearly deathly ill (or dead) or if you have been grievously injured by one of your fellow prisoners.
  • The great exercise program consists of hanging out with the same dangerous people, except now they have access to a variety of implements which can be used to kill you.
  • It smells.  Bad.  That’s a common theme from everyone I’ve heard.  It just smells bad.
  • The food is generally horrific.  If you really step out of line, some prisons serve you something called Nutriloaf.
Nutriloaf--One of the many joys of prison life

Nutriloaf–One of the many joys of prison life

Here’s the bottom line:  Prison is horrible.  It’s a nightmare.  I’ve never met any ex-con who speaks fondly of his days in stir nor I have met anyone who wanted to go back.  If it’s such a great life, I suggest you go. The good thing about prison is that it’s really easy to join.

Maybe you know an old person in a nursing home worse than prison.  If so, it’s hard to imagine, unless you put them there because you hate them (see my comments below about old people).  In that case, it’s good enough for them.

By the way, you know what would really suck?  Being old AND in prison.


Here’s one you’re bound to have heard:  Don’t buy beer or cigarettes or get tattoos or cars or TVs if you’re on welfare.  It’s similar to Michelle Bachmann’s suggestion that the best way to get health insurance is to get a job.  Literally, these statements may be true.  Literally, but not practically.

Perhaps it would be better for poor people not to drink beer or smoke.  That’s probably true for the rich, too,  Tattoos seem to be a generally bad idea to me.  Why not take it a step further and just say that poor people shouldn’t buy magazines or soda or toys for their kids or clothes, for that matter?

I have never been poor.  I wasn’t born poor.  I wasn’t raised poor.  I didn’t pull myself up by the bootstraps.  I don’t even know what bootstraps are.  I’m not a self-made man.  Yes, I am successful, at least by most definitions.  But, I had a lot of advantages–college-educated parents and a comfortable upbringing for two BIG examples.  So, I don’t know what it’s like to be poor.  Most of the people who bitch and moan about poor people also don’t know what it’s like to be poor.

I grew up with poor people.  Some of my friends were poor.  They had one thing in common–they didn’t like it, and were at least slightly embarrassed by it. In Eastern Kentucky, poverty wasn’t uncommon.  We were in a melting pot.  The rich, poor and middle class were all together.  We went to school and church together.  You could be like my family and live well but have neighbors who were poor by any definition.  We got to see it up close, and it’s ugly.

Ever wonder why a lot of poor people turn to drug-dealing?  Was it a life-long ambition?  Is it because they want to accomplish something in life?  Nope.  It’s for the money.  Being poor isn’t good, and most poor people agree.  Yes, there are exceptions, just as there are to every rule.  I’ve known people born into poverty who didn’t aspire to anything better.  What I have NEVER known is someone who wasn’t poor but aspired to be poor, because it is such a great life.


It seems that I’m always hearing about how great everyone’s parents are (were).  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day, etc.  On Facebook, there are innumerable posts requesting you to “like” them if your parents were saints or your best friends or fabulous.  Let’s be honest, some parents are awful.

Now, I had excellent parents.  They worked hard, cared about their kids and sacrificed a great deal for us.  I was LUCKY.  That’s it.  I didn’t choose them anymore than they chose me.  Someone recently told me that I’m wrong about that–that I was blessed to have good parents.  Perhaps.  But that begs the question:  If I did nothing to be so blessed, what did others do to be cursed with their parents? Nothing, you say?  Then, that sounds like luck–good and bad–to me.

I’ve known people whose parents beat them, ignored them or were just generally crappy to them their whole lives.  These are just horrible people who happened to achieve the none-too-impressive feat of procreation.  You know what these folks deserve for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?  NOTHING.   As I’ve quoted before, my father once said:  “When I was young, we had plenty of elder abuse, except we called it ‘revenge.'”

So, if you had good parents, good for you, just don’t blow too much about it.  You didn’t have anything to do with it.  If you had rotten parents, it’s okay, too.  You didn’t make them that way.


I’ve written before about hating rich people, so I won’t belabor that.  At the heart of that hate is the belief that the rich are bad.  They aren’t, at least no more so than the rest of us.

Warren Buffett is rich.  Super-rich.  Billionaire-rich.  He once said: “Of the billionaires I’ve known, money just brings out the basic traits in them.  If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.”  That makes sense.  Buffett doesn’t seem like to jerk to me.  Maybe he is, but it probably doesn’t have anything to do with having a silo full of money.

Let’s all accept one irrefutable fact:  We all want to be rich.  All of us.  If the rich are awful, then we all aspire to be awful.


It is a common refrain old people are a “treasure” or a “joy” or sources of “wisdom.”  If you were a miserable ass when you were young, there’s a pretty good chance that’s what you’ll be when you’re old.  Being a fool is likely to get worse with age, not better.  In fact, the older you are, the more people probably realize your true colors.  You just lived a long time.  Big whoop.  Charles Manson is 78.  Mozart died at 35.

Charles Manson, a wise and wonderful old fellow

Charles Manson, a wise and wonderful old fellow

Think about this:  Have you ever known an old person you couldn’t stand to be around?  Of course, you have.  He or she was probably a family member, too.  Some old people become mean with age.  Some were mean to start with and became old and mean.  Not all old people are cute or charming or wise.  Some are ugly, hateful and dumb asses.  It’s hard to outgrow those things.

Well, that’s five things that I have now stripped of their veneer of credibility.  Perhaps, you are an old, rich prisoner who aspires to a life of poverty.  As such, you might disagree with me.  Well, you’re wrong.  So much for your “wisdom,” Pops.

© 2012

Gunning For Answers

The gun control debate rages again, this time in the harsh light of the Newtown, Connecticut school on December 14, 2012. This shooting is the latest in a troubling series of such acts dating back to the 1997 Heath High School shooting in Paducah, Kentucky.

We have the predictable responses from those who want strict gun control to those who want none. After a week of silence, the venerable National Rifle Association weighed in with its views. As might be expected, the NRA does not view this as a gun control issue. It is, rather, a question of defending the public against homicidal gun owners whose minds have been warped by violent video games and the desire for media attention. To those at the other end of the spectrum it’s all about the guns.

As a lawyer, I prided myself on my ability to digest large volumes of information and distill it into easily understood concepts. In this instance, I’ve opted for a shallow understanding of the issues and flippant set of suggestions. Each, however, is based upon very real suggestions offered by each camp. Understand that I am not making light of the violence which brings these issues to the front now. Rather, it is my analysis of taking these suggestions to their logical (sort of) conclusion.


Few people actually advocate banning all guns or even handguns, but a few people do. Others do so by implication pointing to countries such as Japan as a model for gun control. Let’s just dispense with this one. The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents it. End of story.


If by “assault” we mean “shooting humans,” we have a problem: THEY’RE ALL ASSAULT WEAPONS! Okay, not all of them, but most of them. Handguns, in particular, are made for human game. I know that some folks hunt with handguns. Not many. Gaston Glock designed the popular line of Glock handguns for shooting people. They are an engineering marvel. Lightweight, easily assembled, simple to use and low maintenance. Law enforcement loves them–and for good reason–they are great guns, but they are intended for human targets. That’s the purpose of handguns. Try hunting with a snub nosed .38. Unless you are planning execution-style kills, it won’t be much use in the wild. Stick it in a human’s ribs, though, and it’s damn effective.

If you only own a gun for self-defense, it’s an assault weapon. You only intend to use it to kill another human. If you like target practice, maybe it’s not–unless you use the popular targets that look like–you guessed it!–humans. In that case, you’re practicing for human-shooting should you ever have the opportunity. “Assault” weapon makes as much sense as “stabbing” sword.


There is a small (I hope), but vocal, contingent who see murderous attacks at our schools as a result of the lack of prayer in school. They ignore the fact that the Heath High School shooting in Kentucky, which has the dubious distinction of starting all this slaughter, took place in a prayer group. What was God’s point with that one?

I’ve heard that we prayed in school when I was a kid. I don’t remember any organized prayer, but I prayed. I prayed for each day to end, to never go back, etc. As far as invoking God’s hand as part of our curriculum, maybe we did. I just don’t remember it. Clearly, it made a strong impression on me.

Let’s just leave God out of this one. He gets blamed for too much stuff anyway.


This stuff includes items which technically aren’t guns. They are gun accessories. Large capacity magazines, types of ammo, body armor and other items are all on the table. This has some merit, but coming up with a comprehensive list is daunting. At the end of the day, there will be still be guns. Lots of them. By some counts, there are 270 million guns in American. That’s 9 for every 10 people. They can all be used for killing people and most are designed to do exactly that. Banning their accessories is like telling people they can’t eat with forks anymore. It may be inconvenient, but they’ll still eat.


This is the NRA’s position or, as NRA President Wayne LaPierre said: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This isn’t exactly true. A grenade, flamethrower, pack of pit bulls, truck and knife in the back are a number of other ways to stop a bad guy, too. Even another bad guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. Of course, this only creates the problem of how to stop a really bad guy who can stop other bad guys.

Don’t count me among the folks who think the NRA is a cabal of evil thugs. In fact, I am a former NRA member. Former? I enjoyed reading Guns & Ammo Magazine, but I finally tired of the NRA’s lobbying efforts. Understand that this isn’t because I’m against gun ownership. I just thought they went too far on many occasions. That said, I know lots of fine folks who belong to the NRA.

Even the NRA’s staunchest allies know that the NRA’s position will always be more guns, not less. In other words, confront violence with violence. Some may consider this the same philosophy that seeks world peace through killing all one’s enemies. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to attempt to marginalize the NRA. It has a place at the table. In fact, its political power means that it may well own the table.

The NRA sees four causes of school shootings: 1. Lack of security at schools. 2. Violent video games 3. The media; and 4. Crazy people. The crazies are inspired by video games to seek fame through the media by attacking schools because the schools lack security. There is probably some validity to each of these points. The NRA hasn’t specified exactly what should be done but promises to enlist a vast cadre of law enforcement, military and concerned people to come up with something. We’ll see.

So, with all these ideas swirling about, what is the answer? I’m certainly not qualified to come up with a plan, but then again no one else is, either. With that in mind, here is my modest proposal:


Nothing sends Americans scurrying to the local gun store like the word “redistribution.” They imagine hunkering down with their personal arsenals to fight off jackbooted government thugs. These thugs will be roaming house to house to take away our hard-earned stuff and giving it all to people on welfare. I’m a free market guy and would never suggest such socialism.

No, I’m talking about redistribution of our weapons. With 270 million guns floating around, there’s no excuse for people not being armed. The problem–as with wealth–isn’t that there isn’t enough of it. It’s a matter of disproportionate distribution. For example, my father owned 12 guns. That means that there were 10 or 11 people without guns. He was in the gun 1%.

Here’s what we do. Gather up all the guns and distribute them among the public. Make sure everyone has his or her own. Even better, just by my typing this, gun sales will increase, and there will be even more guns to hand out. What if we’re still short? We’ll invoke Obamacare and create a Gun Mandate. If you don’t go buy one, we’ll tax your ass to death.

Once we’re all armed, the playing field will be level. Someone pulls a gun, and it’s the OK Corral. Let’s throw lead. Every man, woman and child will pack iron. Child? If these kids can learn how to use an iPad, a pistol is snap. Plus, real guns will pull them away from the dangers of video games. This is a win-win-win.


The NRA suggest that a national database of the mentally ill is needed. No, it’s not because they want a more comprehensive mailing list. They want to keep track of dangerous people. Predictably, this has been met with hoots of derision. Some believe that violating numerous federal laws and constitutionally protected privacy rights is too high a price to pay to protect the Second Amendment. Of course, the NRA disagrees. Hell, they’d trample the Third Amendment and quarter soldiers in our homes if meant we could keep our guns. But, the database (of “Loony Log,” as I call it) could work:

  • According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a dizzying array of mental illnesses and an almost uncountable number of related medications. Here’s the deal: If you take one of these, you’re on the list.
  • We can use Obamacare to help us tag other dangerous mental defectives. If you have seen a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, clergyman or school guidance counselor, you’re on the list.
  • ADD, ADHD, schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, autism, moodiness, PMS, anxiety, angst and prickliness all qualify. You’re on the list.
  • If you’re over 65 years old, there’s a good chance you’re not firing on all cylinders. You’re on the list.
  • If you dress funny, look weird or are just odd, you’re on the list.
  • If you’re not on the list, this means you are in a tiny minority. Clearly, there is something bad wrong with you. You’re on the list.

Once we’ve compiled the list, a crack team of retired police officers, soldiers, militia men and security guards will constantly monitor the list to track your every move. You may ask: Will this affect my ability to acquire a gun? Are you insane in addition to your mental illness? There’s nothing in the Second Amendment stripping the rights of crazy people. Strap down, my nutty friend.


This is my own idea, and I’ll confess that it’s a bit radical. It is a long-held belief that an armed citizenry keeps the government in check. If they come after us, we’ll fight them off with our guns. The problem–and it’s a really big one–is that they control the military. Now, I know many folks are quite skilled with guns, but this is a question of firepower. No army on Earth can even seriously oppose our military. I’m confident that a disorganized band of the mentally ill randomly firing handguns will fare poorly.

Better weaponry will allow us to even the odds in a civil war. An added bonus will be curbing crime through superior firepower. Imagine the second thoughts which will be caused by the prospect of facing down not only a general public armed to the teeth with guns but also of a grenade or flamethrower being whipped out. If your neighbor builds an unsightly fence on your property line, a little napalm will take care of it. We’ll bring all this foolishness to an end through the threat of mutual destruction.

If a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with one, a good guy with a LAW rocket will stop 20 of them. Of course, bad guys might have the same weapons. But, remember–most of these freaks are loners. They won’t be as organized as we are. Think scorched Earth.


My little diatribe above is all tongue in cheek, of course, but it were printed as an op-ed piece, I am sure that many folks would agree with parts of it. Honestly, is it any crazier than some of the ideas being floated now? If there is a point to any of this it is that these simple answers can create as many problems as they solve.

What is the real answer? Complex problems often require complex answers. Americans like simple answers. Ban guns. Arm school teachers. Pray. These public gun attacks (or “sprees,” as the press says) continue to occur even as crime rates, including violent crime, decline. It is a political, social and even moral issue. Unfortunately, we live in a time when compromise in any of those areas seems impossible.

I own guns and grew up around them. They don’t scare me nor do they give me any particular comfort. I know people who have been shot, including two family members. I also know people who have shot people. Sadly, I know far too many people who have taken their own lives with guns. I know they can easily and legally get into the hands of people who will wreak havoc with them. THAT is serious issue which should be addressed with all the urgency of the response to 9/11. We’re a bright people. We can explore answers that don’t require stripping rights or just admitting defeat.

The NRA, the anti-gun lobby, politicians and the public have common ground here. No one wants to read about mass killings at schools, malls, churches or anywhere else. Addressing that concern would seem to be in everyone’s interest.

© 2012

The American Sport

The shootings in Aurora, Colorado have predictably sparked debate about gun control. That debate is easily rekindled. Sadly, we have many such opportunities in America.

I’m not part of that debate and neither is this post. I have nothing to add to the countless talking heads and political opportunists who stand on such tragedies as a platform to hear themselves speak. Although I am an attorney, I also won’t belabor the many court decisions interpreting the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution which guarantees the right to bear arms. We have that right, subject to limits.

I will offer this disclaimer: I have no problem with gun ownership. I own guns. I grew up around guns. When my father died, he left a veritable arsenal of weapons. The Second Amendment exists, and I wouldn’t support repealing it nor would I support leaving it to the states to decide. If this makes me a Second Amendment advocate, so be it. I don’t hunt, carry a gun or belong to the NRA. You be the judge.

I’m not foolish enough to say that what happened in Colorado had nothing to do with guns. Of course it did. I also recognize legitimate questions about how a person purchases body armor and thousands of rounds of ammunition without detection. That said, I leave it to others to decide what the legal reaction, if any, should be.

For me, the broader question, the American question, is Why? Why do we Americans kill each other for sport? We do, you know. We always have. It happens in other countries, but it is as American a sport as football. We’ve had our share of political murder, assassination and domestic terrorism. But, hunting each other remains an American past time.

We’re hardly the most violent or dangerous country on the planet. Many countries are little more than disorganized war zones. Organized crime permeates some societies. Our distinction is in the random or so-called “senseless” murder.

In our age of information overload, we tend to think that these things are a modern phenomenon. Nancy Grace will jump on one of these stories every day. My favorite cable channel is Investigation Discovery, an entire TV network built around people killing each other. Think about that.

We have school shootings. SCHOOL shootings. That should be unthinkable, but it isn’t. Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard. Andrew Kehoe was the Treasurer of the Bath Township Consolidated School board in Michigan. Like a lot of folks, he was against tax increases. The board approved an increase in property taxes to fund the schools. Kehoe owned a farm and was very much against this increase. He was legitimately concerned with his ability to pay the tax increase and keep his farm. He made his objections known but to no avail. Here’s what he did next.

He bludgeoned his wife to death and set off explosives in all his farm’s buildings, destroying his farm and all his livestock. The previous day, he planted explosives in the Bath Consolidated School. They detonated almost simultaneously with those at the farm. Over 30 died, most small children, while Kehoe watched from his car. The school Superintendent was at the school and approached Kehoe’s car. This time, a bomb exploded in the car, killing Kehoe, the Superintendent and an 8-year-old girl. In all, 38 people died. If Mr. Kehoe had committed his crimes today, he would be the subject of 24 hour a day coverage.

Why don’t you know about this? Because it happened in 1927. Our history of violence is as long as it is disturbing. Ted Bundy was the first murderer that I can recall being called a “serial” killer, but he was far from the first. Google the name Carl Panzram, and you will read of one of the worst of God’s creatures, an unrepentant misanthrope whose last words were: “Hurry up, you Hoosier sonofabitch! I could have hung ten men in the time it’s taking you!” He was hanged in 1930. There was Albert Fish, child killer and cannibal, a predator so vile that prosecutors weren’t sure how to even present his crimes to a jury. He was electrocuted in 1936. What of Ed Gein, a mild-mannered farmer from Plainfield, Wisconsin? When he wasn’t farming, he was a murderer, graverobber and necrophile and the inspiration for Norman Bates and many other fictional killers. He committed his crimes in the 1950’s and died as a model prisoner in 1984.

Read Erik Larson’s excellent book The Devil and the White City for an account of the crimes of H.H. Holmes during the Chicago World’s Fair in the 19th Century. The 1920’s saw The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders near Los Angeles. So common were child disappearances that as many as 20 children may have been killed before authorities acted.

Howard Unruh was a decorated World War II veteran. He was also a dangerous psychotic who woke up one morning in 1949, shot his mother and then roamed the streets of Camden, New Jersey shooting and killing 13 people at random. American as apple pie.

Charles Starkweather, Edmund Kemper, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy–the list goes on and on. These are the ones we remember. In 1984, James Huberty prepared to leave his home when his wife asked: “Where are you going?” He responded: “Hunting humans.” He went to McDonalds and killed 21 people. Remember that? Maybe not. After all, there have been so many since then. Murderers all, but they all don’t have guns in common. What they have in common is murder for sport.

Why? Maybe it’s because we have so much freedom that the dangerous and demented feel free to cut loose. Because of our freedoms, the police are often left only to pursue criminals, rather than prevent crime. That’s a trade-off for freedom. We don’t have tools to apprehend those with the potential for mayhem. The odd, curious or even dangerous person is free to roam the streets. You see them everyday. You might be one of them.

Of course, we can curtail some of this if we’re willing to pay the price. Nowadays, folks are fond of saying “Freedom Isn’t Free.” This is a mostly empty platitude said by folks like me from the comfort of our living rooms. When it comes to crime, that old saw is certainly true. We can restrict the Second Amendment. While we’re at it, why not the 4th and 5th Amendments, too? Allowing the state to randomly search us and extract confessions could well prevent the next Aurora. Too extreme?

Have you noticed the fine job the federal government has done apprehending potential terrorists? How do they do it? Whether you like the Patriot Act or not, it has been effective. The government can tap your phone, read your mail and pretty much track your every movement based on nothing more than suspicion. Add to that a prison in Cuba where suspects are held forever without facing charges or trial and you have a pretty effective crime prevention system.

We won’t, can’t and shouldn’t ever go down that road, of course. The swap of liberty for security is rarely a fair trade. Does this mean there should be no gun laws? Of course not. But taking the rights of the many because of the acts of the few is dangerous territory. The Aurora gunman (I will not dignify him by mentioning his name) is to the Second Amendment what the Westboro Baptist Church is to the First Amendment. Both abuse their rights to harm others, but neither is worth taking the rights of those who don’t.

Despite what some think, we aren’t easy on crime. Our prisons are bulging at their seams. We also execute people, putting us in the same class as Iran, China and North Korea when it comes to jurisprudence. Regardless of how brutally we’ve done it, killing people never seemed to help. Hanging, shooting, stoning, electrocution–they just keep on killing. We could hang every convicted killer tomorrow, and I can guarantee that there will be murders that afternoon.

The big question is never debated. What is it about our society that lends itself to these crimes? England and Japan, hardly police states, see almost no predatory murder. Yet, we see it daily. Someone smarter than I am will have to find a way to detect and stop these folks before they strike.

Despite all this, it is a mistake to condemn society. Most people–almost everyone–are good people. They work, help their neighbors and are good to their families. The exceptions scare us and fascinate us.

Where are these exceptions? Everywhere. Our towns, neighborhoods–maybe even our own homes. We can’t hide. We can’t pray our way into a protective bubble. We just have to hope we don’t cross paths with one of these folks at the wrong time.

We feel for the people of Aurora, although most of us, thankfully, can’t imagine what they feel. I imagine the sadness and terror are palpable. On a random night, they were visited by the worst in us. Hopefully, they will now see the best in us.

By chance, I once spoke to a man whose sibling had committed a notorious and brutal crime. He said he his family had no idea that it was coming and many years later couldn’t come to grips with it. He said: “He just had something bad going on with him, and no one could see it.” The question, which I certainly can’t answer, is Can anyone see it?

© 2012

No Happy Endings in Happy Valley

During Jerry Sandusky’s trial a lot of thoughts came to mind. I jotted some down and pondered others. Here they are:

  • How many people had an opportunity to stop Sandusky? We know that there were several at Penn State–administrators, coaches, even a janitor. There were social workers and concerned parents. No one stopped it. If  there is anything in this sad tale that rivals Sandusky’s actions, it’s this silence.
  • As a lawyer, I like the way the prosecutor handled its case. The case was strong, and it was tried that way. The jury’s time wasn’t wasted. This wasn’t what I call a “California” trial where seemingly straightforward cases take 6 months to try.
  • A lot of folks enjoyed deriding Sandusky’s lawyer. I can’t imagine defending that case. What would I do? Probably no better than he did.  Sandusky was entitled to a trial and lawyer.  He had both.
  • Sandusky is a pedophile and fits the profile. I had heard of this profile, but this is the first time I’ve seen what it really looks like.
  • Sandusky isn’t a monster. He’s a football coach.  A father, a grandfather.  He’s your neighbor.  You go to church with him.  He volunteers in the community.  He does good things.  If he were a monster, it would all seem more palatable.  He is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing who preyed on the poorest and the weakest.  We can no more pick this monster out of crowd than we can tell what flavor ice cream a person likes by looking at him or her.  That makes him more frightening than any monster.
  • All that said, a Sandusky doesn’t operate in a vacuum.  People turn a blind eye.  Some are willfully ignorant, for sure, but others give the benefit of the doubt when such doubt has long since stopped being reasonable.  From abuses in churches to homes to this, the stories seem to have common theme of missed opportunities to stop this abuse.  Worse yet, there are those who know or at the very least should know and do nothing.
  • One can’t help but wonder how many other people operate the same as Sandusky.  He got caught.  It is reasonable to assume that many, many others haven’t been and won’t be.
  • The victims who testified deserve admiration.  They are men now, no longer scared into silence by a criminal.  They stood up to him, and he had nothing.  No explanation.  No excuse.  No threats to silence them.  Stripped of his power over them, he was just what he appeared to be–a pathetic, perverse criminal.  He could resort only to what he surely would have done had they come forward as children.  Accuse them of lying and hope he would get the benefit of the doubt because he was Coach Sandusky.  The easy path for these men would be to continue to hide and push this into the past.  By facing Sandusky, they put him where he needed to be long ago.  One can only hope that this will give them each–and the others who did not come forward–some measure of peace.
  • At the outset of this sorry tale, there was a feeling that the folks of Happy Valley would never turn against mighty Penn State.  Sandusky surely would be in good shape with a jury full of fans.  As it turns out, the power of football collapsed under the weight of a small town’s shame over one of its own.  When Sandusky’s conviction was announced, all reports are that there was cheering outside the courthouse, followed by jeering of Sandusky as he was led away in handcuffs.
  • I didn’t spend much time wondering if Sandusky did what he was accused of.  I’m a big believer in the criminal justice system.  Even those who commit crimes are entitled to put the government to its proof.  The jury did its job and not just because it returned convictions.  Their job was to reach a verdict based upon the evidence, and they did.
  • Justice was served in the only way it can be.  Let the court and jury decide his fate.  But make no mistake, there was no winner here.   Even if they gain some measure of peace now, the victims can’t undo the damage done to them by a person who came into their lives to help, not hurt them.  Sandusky gets to live the rest of his life in protective custody–23 hours a day in a 6 x 8 cell.  His wife and children have this hung around their necks like millstones.  Penn State will be scrubbing this stain for a generation.  The administrators, coaches, social workers and no doubt others who could have intervened will live with the knowledge that much of this could have been stopped.  This sad, shameful story had many authors, and no one could come up with a happy ending.
  • I can’t help but wonder why these things happen.  No one asks to be a victim nor do they invite such attacks.  Really, there is no answer.  As surely as there are good people, there are bad ones.  We cross paths with both every day.
  • When this story broke, it was largely a Penn State football story.  Who exactly was this Sandusky? What did Coach Paterno know?    We needed to know more about Mike McQueary.  Paterno was fired–an unthinkable act before Sandusky became a household word.  As the victims made their stories public, football faded away–even in Happy Valley.  When Paterno died, that marked the symbolic–if not actual–end to the football story.
  • The story isn’t over.  Like the abuses in the Catholic churches, you can expect years of civil litigation.  There will be more stories, more brutal details, but none will have quite the impact of what we heard the past two weeks.
  • Despite the horrific details of Sandusky’s behavior, tempering our reactions is necessary.  Sports are not over-run with pedophiles.  Our children are not in constant danger.  We would do well to remember the McMartin Preschool case and its surrounding mania.  Such accusations are easy to make and difficult to defend.  I knew a man who was tried and acquitted on molestation charges.  It didn’t matter.  His life was substantially destroyed.
  • Following the trial, I was surprised at how important it became to me that Sandusky be convicted.  As a lawyer, I’ve become conditioned to allowing these things to play out.  I was glad he was convicted, and I’m equally glad that he will spend his remaining years in prison.  I have no interest in seeking revenge on him by turning him loose in the general prison population.  That won’t help the victims.  It will only turn Sandusky into one himself.
  • I still don’t know what I learned from this, other than there is bad in the world.  I already knew that, of course.  I guess I need a reminder some times.

© 2012